Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin recently made headlines when he announced that there will be no more kneeling on his field.
“You’re athletes, not activists,” Tomlin declared, seemingly unaware of the rich tradition of athletes using their platform to bring attention to social issues.
In a press conference, Tomlin explained his reasoning for the ban. “We’re here to play football, not to make political statements,” he said.
“We have a job to do, and that’s to win games. If you want to protest, do it on your own time.” While Tomlin’s stance may seem reasonable to some, others are calling it out for what it really is: a blatant attempt to silence his players and stifle their freedom of expression.
“It’s disappointing to see Coach Tomlin take this position,” said Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. “As athletes, we have a unique opportunity to use our platform to effect change in our communities.
To take that away from us is a disservice not only to us as individuals, but to the fans who look up to us as role models.”
Critics of Tomlin’s ban point out that the NFL has a long history of players using their platform to bring attention to social issues.
From Muhammad Ali refusing to be drafted into the Vietnam War to Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem, athletes have always been at the forefront of social change.
Tomlin, however, seems to be more concerned with keeping his players in line than with allowing them to speak their minds. “I don’t want any distractions on my team,” he said.
“We’re here to win, and that’s all that matters.” It remains to be seen how Tomlin’s ban will affect the Steelers’ performance on the field, but one thing is for sure: the team’s reputation as a bastion of free speech and social activism has taken a hit.
As one fan put it, “I used to be proud to be a Steelers fan, but now I’m not so sure. It’s a sad day when a coach tells his players to shut up and play ball.”